06.28.18

Leahy And Murray Introduce Legislation To Limit Warrantless Vehicle Stops And Property Searches Near The Border

U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) Thursday introduced legislation to establish critical privacy protections in the United States by limiting the unreasonably wide “border zone” within which Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officers may – without warrants – stop vehicles and search private land for the purpose of patrolling the border. 

Currently DHS officers have broad legal authority to stop vehicles and search private land, without warrants, for the purpose of patrolling the border.  Yet the border has been defined to include a 100-mile “border zone” in which DHS officers may conduct such stops, including marine borders. This geographic area contains nearly two-thirds of the population of the United States.  Under new directives from the Trump administration, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in Vermont and in Washington State recently have boarded Greyhound buses without a warrant and inquired about the citizenship of passengers, and international college students have been targeted for questioning about their legal status.  In Maine and New Hampshire, immigration checkpoints have been set up on interstate highways, and in Montana, a CBP agent even stopped an American citizen simply for speaking Spanish.

The new legislation would reduce the “border zone” in which DHS officers can stop vehicles to search for aliens from 100 miles down to 25 miles, and would reduce the zone in which DHS officers may enter onto private property (except houses) from 25 miles down to 10 miles.  It would also prohibit DHS from stopping a vehicle at dragnet-style immigration checkpoints further than 10 miles from the border, without reasonable suspicion that an occupant is in the U.S. illegally.

The bill will be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Leahy is a leading member.

Leahy said:  “This is about ensuring that every person in this country receives the constitutional protections to which they are entitled.  Vermonters have rightly been concerned about these expanded border zone searches.  They believe, as I do, that once inside our country the phrase ‘show me your papers’ does not belong inside the United States of America.”

Murray said: “Simply living or traveling near the border is not a sufficient reason to hassle or detain people in Washington State. This bill would reset the balance between giving federal law enforcement the tools they need to protect the border and protecting the rights of families and communities who live or travel nearby our national borders.”

The full text of the legislation is available here.  A fact sheet on the legislation is available here.

Leahy’s Congressional Record statement upon introducing the bill on Thursday follows:

 

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

On the Introduction of the Border Zone Reasonableness Restoration Act of 2018

June 28, 2018

Today, I am joining with Senator Murray in introducing the Border Zone Reasonableness Restoration Act of 2018.  This legislation, if enacted, will establish critical privacy protections for Americans by limiting the unjustifiably wide “border zone” within which Department of Homeland Security officers may – without a warrant – stop vehicles and search private land for the purpose of patrolling the border. 

The current 100 mile “border zone” was established through regulatory fiat. While the Fourth Amendment allows limited exceptions to the warrant requirement at or close to the border, this 100 mile zone is neither limited nor reasonable.  It includes marine borders.  At present, it encompasses almost two-thirds of the population of the United States. This includes major cities such as New York, Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans, and Los Angeles, even the “border town” of Richmond, Virginia, as well as entire states such as Maine, Delaware, and Florida.

The need for this legislation has never been clearer.  The Trump administration’s aggressive yet wasteful use of immigration enforcement resources has subjected law-abiding citizens to needless and intrusive searches at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) checkpoints far from the border.  Not only do these searches produce minimal value to border enforcement, they violate the constitutionally protected privacy of citizens and residents of border regions, including in my home state of Vermont.  Recently, CBP agents in Vermont have boarded Greyhound buses in Burlington without a warrant and inquired about the citizenship of passengers.  They have targeted international college students for questioning about their legal status.  In the nearby states of Maine and New Hampshire, they have shut down interstate highways with immigration checkpoints. In Montana, a CBP agent even stopped an American citizen simply for speaking Spanish.

This should not be a partisan issue. This is about ensuring that every person in this country receives the constitutional protections to which they are entitled. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Cato Institute have sharply criticized these practices as problematic under the Fourth Amendment. Vermonters have rightly been concerned about these expanded border zone searches. They believe, as I do, that once inside our country the phrase ‘show me your papers’ does not belong inside the United States of America.

The Border Zone Reasonableness Restoration Act is based on an amendment that Senator Murray and I successfully attached to immigration reform legislation in 2013 during the Obama Administration. The 100 mile “border zone” – and the similar 25 mile zone where many types of warrantless property searches are permitted – predates this current administration, but the actions of this administration have shown just how much we need legislation like this today. 

The Fourth Amendment does not stop 100 miles from our land and sea borders. Its protections extend whether in the heart of Kansas or in the middle of Vermont. Ensuring that the protections of the Fourth Amendment are available to everyone within the United States should be important to all of us, regardless of party or ideology. I hope all Senators will support this commonsense measure to ensure the Fourth Amendment is upheld.

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693